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Low oil sales, Covid-19 force Algeria budget slash by 50%1 minute read

Despite this huge reduction, the government also agreed at a cabinet meeting to increase the minimum wage from 18,000 dinars ($140) per month to 20,000 dinars, while income tax will be abolished for those earning 30,000 dinars or less, a government statement said.

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Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune./VON

The financial crisis caused by the global collapse in oil prices and worldwide coronavirus lockdowns on Sunday forced the Algerian government to reduce the state budget by half.

The government has decided to reduce the budget by “50 per cent” for this year, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s office said in a statement.

Despite this huge reduction, the government also agreed at a cabinet meeting to increase the minimum wage from 18,000 dinars ($140) per month to 20,000 dinars, while income tax will be scrapped for those earning 30,000 dinars or less, the statement said. 

The government also postponed, from Sunday until 10 May, consideration of a finance law which seeks to frame a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

A collapse in hydrocarbon prices this year — caused by plunging demand due to societal lockdowns designed to combat the spread of the virus and worsened by a brief price war between key players – Russia and Saudi Arabia – is putting even greater pressure on Algeria’s external accounts.

Before this year’s crisis took hold, Algeria’s foreign exchange reserves had fallen to $62 billion at the end of 2019, from $180 billion in 2014.

The draft law factors in a plunge in oil receipts this year to $20.6 billion, compared to the $37.4 billion previously anticipated.  

Tebboune on Friday ruled out approaching the IMF for a bailout, contending that “accumulating debt harms national sovereignty” when it is owed to foreign institutions. 

He said he preferred to rely instead on domestic borrowing. 

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North Africa Politics

Tripoli airport recaptured by Libyan pro-unity government

The operation to retake the country’s largest civilian airport began Wednesday morning, with drones providing air cover, Mohamad Gnounou, spokesman for forces backing the Government of National Accord said in a statement.

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Mohamad Gnounou, spokesman for forces backing the Government of National Accord.

Armed forces backing Libya’s unity government have recaptured Tripoli international airport after heavy fighting with rival troops supporting strongman Khalifa Haftar, a spokesman announced Wednesday.

“Our forces have fully liberated Tripoli International Airport,” said Mohamad Gnounou, spokesman for forces backing the Government of National Accord in a statement.

The airport, in a strategic area on the capital’s southern edges, has been closed since 2014 and had been seized by pro-Haftar forces last year.

Forces loyal to the east Libyan strongman have been battling since April 2019 to seize Tripoli from the UN-recognised GNA, in fighting that has left hundreds dead and forced 200,000 to flee their homes.

Pro-GNA forces “are chasing Haftar’s militias, who are fleeing (southwards) towards Gasr Ben Gashir”, Gnounou said.

The operation to retake the country’s largest civilian airport began Wednesday morning, with drones providing air cover, Gnounou added.

For the past two weeks, pro-GNA forces have been carrying out large-scale ground and air attacks, surrounding the airport area before the final assault on Wednesday, he said.

Pro-Haftar forces have not commented on the setback, but the loss of the airport follows a string of defeats for Haftar in recent weeks, an AFP report said.

GNA forces buoyed by Turkish drones and air defence systems have taken back a string of coastal towns and a key airbase Haftar had used to launch attacks.

While the GNA is backed by Turkey, Haftar is supported by neighbouring Egypt and the United Arab Emirates as well as Russia.

Libya has been mired in conflict since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with two rival administrations and scores of militias struggling for power.

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Tunisia to reopen borders, airspace on June 27

Tunisian Prime Minister, Elyes Fakhfakh also said Tunisian nationals abroad will be repatriated from June 4.

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Tunisia's new Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh speaks during the government handover ceremony in Carthage on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis on February 28, 2020. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

Tunisian Prime Minister, Elyes Fakhfakh has announced that the country will reopen its land, air and sea borders from June 27.

He also said Tunisian nationals abroad will be repatriated from June 4.

Fakhfakh made the announcement after a meeting with the national commission to combat coronavirus on Monday.

Tunisia has reported 1,084 confirmed coronavirus cases so far, a Xinxua news agency report said.

The North African country has received support from various countries including China.

On April 16, China donated a batch of medical aid to Tunisia’s Ministry of National Defense, including facemasks, test kits and medical protective googles.

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North Africa Politics

Algeria recalls its ambassador in France for airing films on protests

Algeria’s interior ministry said films including two broadcast on Tuesday, while “seemingly spontaneous and under the pretext of freedom of expression, are in fact attacks on the Algerian people and its institutions” including the army.

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Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune

Algeria plans to “immediately” recall its ambassador from France for consultations after documentaries about the North African country’s anti-government protest movement were aired on French public television, officials said Wednesday. 

The interior ministry said the films including two broadcasts on Tuesday, while “seemingly spontaneous and under the pretext of freedom of expression, are in fact attacks on the Algerian people and its institutions” including the army.

Citing the “recurrent character” of such programmes on French public TV, it singled out two documentaries broadcast on Tuesday by France 5 and the former colonial power’s Parliamentary Channel.

Unprecedented mass protests rocked Algeria early last year to demand the departure of veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, sparked by the ailing 82-year-old’s announcement that he would stand for a fifth term.

In April 2019 he resigned, and in December, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected on an official turnout of less than 40 percent. Analysts say participation was considerably lower. 

Mass protests against the ruling system only halted when the novel coronavirus arrived in Algeria earlier this year.

Despite the movement suspending demonstrations since mid-March, a crackdown has continued against regime opponents and independent media.

– ‘Malicious and lasting intentions’ –

The films cited by the Algerian ministry had sparked fierce debates on social media. 

“Algeria, my love”, aired by France 5, told the story of the Hirak protest movement through the eyes of five Algerians in their 20s from across the country. 

Directed by French journalist of Algerian origin Mustapha Kessous, it broke with a number of taboos and highlighted sociocultural divisions driving the movement, triggering heated discussion on social networks.

The second film, “Algeria: the Promises of the Dawn” was broadcast on France’s Parliamentary Channel.

In its statement, the Algerian ministry cited what it said were “malicious and lasting intentions on the part of certain circles, which do not wish to see peaceful relations between Algeria and France after 58 years of independence”.

France Televisions, which owns France 5, declined to comment on the Algerian announcement on Wednesday evening.

France and Algeria have often had tense ties since Algeria won independence in 1962 after eight years of war.

In early April, the French ambassador to Algeria, Xavier Driencourt, was summoned to the foreign ministry after statements on the France 24 satellite news channel about Chinese medical aid.

Earlier in the year, Tebboune had called for “mutual respect” in Franco-Algerian relations, saying his country “will not accept any interference or tutelage” from abroad.

He was referring to statements made by French President Emmanuel Macron early on in the Hirak protest movement, calling for “a transition of reasonable duration” — remarks seen by Algiers as “interference” in its internal affairs.

In recent weeks, the Algerian government has repeatedly blamed “foreign” NGOs for influencing Algerian media outlets aiming to damage state institutions.

Last month, authorities blocked three news websites that had covered the protests.

Algeria ranks 146 out of 180 countries on RSF’s world press freedom index for 2020.

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